SMBs & Cloud-Based Backups

12/14/2012 9:23:04 AM

Assess need, compare vendors & select a service

All enterprises understand how important it is to back up data, but they may not all be aware of cloud- based offerings that can save internal resources as well as help lower the IT budget related to data storage. For some companies, it's a simple matter of not wanting to move away from traditional backup approaches. For others, it's about worrying that the services are too complicated and po­tentially risky. Whatever the reason, you may be missing out on the many benefits these services provide.

SMBs & Cloud-Based Backups

SMBs & Cloud-Based Backups

Advantages & disadvan­tages of cloud backups

One of the biggest benefits of cloud-based backups is that they don't con­sume onsite resources and instead are housed at an offsite facility. According to Rachel Dines, senior analyst with Forrester Research (www.forrester.com). with PC-based backups, vendors are introducing new features all the time. Generally, backups are non-disruptive, continuous, and provide the ability to still work with open files even as they are being backed up. She points out that these backups can sometimes be accessed from smartphones and tab­lets, even if the data was originally backed up on a desktop or laptop.

Ileana Funez, research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group (www.infotech.com), says that on the server side, where companies are backing up a larger amount of data from multiple systems, one benefit is that there is "very little management overhead that goes into it." Many vendors also offer redundant storage features and provide "a good amount of security for the long-term availability of data," she says.

However, there are a few draw­backs with cloud-based backups that you should be aware of. For one, you are putting potentially sensitive data in the hands of a third-party source and if you aren't fully aware of their security practices, you could be put­ting that information at risk.

Pricing can also be an issue be­cause it "is based on capacity and the one thing companies really have to look out for is overage fees," says Funez. If you sign up for a certain capacity and then exceed that limit, you could be hit hard by additional charges that negate any potential sav­ings. But most of these problems can be overcome by doing your due dili­gence up front and understand what exactly it is you're paying for.

What to look for in vendors & services

Research is one of the key aspects of choosing any product or service and that's why it's so important to compare multiple cloud computing vendors be­fore signing an agreement. You not only need to know the features of their spe­cific offering, but also whether or not it is a fit for your data backup needs.

"From a technology perspective, you want to know what they are going to do to help with data reduc­tion and bandwidth efficiency," says Dines. "You want to make sure that the backups aren't going to take a really long time and stall up your systems and that you aren't going to be paying high network costs because the backups are really large."

Next to the technology itself, you also need to be aware of the vendor's secu­rity practices, find out what types of data loss prevention solutions they have in place, and also learn about the data retention policies. "How long is data kept?" says Dines. "Can that be cus­tomized for the particular needs of my organization? Can I choose between a 30-, 60-, 90-day retention? Those are the basics that you want to look for."

Disaster recovery & business continuity considerations

Another huge benefit of cloud-based backup, and something that every company needs to know about before making the plunge, is that these types of online services are perfect for disaster recovery and business continuity.

"We're starting to see some of the online backup providers also offer cloud disaster recovery," says Dines. "You're backing up to them and if you lost your primary data center, you could recover in the cloud using your backups to their data center."

However, Dines warns that you can't abandon having a disaster recovery plan in place just because you have backups stored off-site. "You still have to have a way to recover that data and those systems to alternative hardware and an alternate location," she says. That's why it's important to maintain great commu­nication with your vendor from begin­ning to end and ensure that you will be covered in case of a data loss event.

you should always have an on-site backup solution in place for your mission-crit¬ical data

you should always have an on-site backup solution in place for your mission-crit­ical data

Backup considerations

In terms of what should be backed up, Funez and Dines have slightly dif­ferent views. Funez says that compa­nies should mainly focus on backing up data that is "difficult to replace," such as ERP, CRM, and email data as well as finance databases and HR sys­tems. Dines agrees that it's important to back up mission-critical data, but that you also need to back up every­thing else as well. But if that seems to be unreasonable and potentially expen­sive, she says companies can't coun­teract it by minimizing data retention.

If you can get retention times down to 30 days or less, that's going to save you a significant amount of money," says Dines. "The majority of backups needs to be restored from the past couple of days, not from a month ago. The likelihood that you'll need a backup from even 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days is pretty low. To save on costs, you can cut those retention times down."

Take a hybrid approach

If you're still not sure whether or not a cloud-based backup approach is right for you, consider dipping your toe in the water instead of diving in head first. Dines says that small organi­zations have the possibility of using the cloud as their sole backup solutions, but that "as you get into larger com­panies and larger amounts of data, it's very useful to have a local stop."

Funez agrees, saying that you should always have an on-site backup solution in place for your mission-crit­ical data, but that you can use cloud-based backups for emergencies. She does say that companies that use re­mote location should consider backing up directly to the cloud, but for many companies, a hybrid approach is a great way to start using the cloud without fully committing to it.

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